That shop with the striped pole? A crime-scene in Victorian melodramas about straight-razoring Sweeney Todd or the Father Brown story “The Vanishing of Vaudrey,” its victim “‘smiling pleasantly at the ceiling in a barber’s chair’” just before his throat’s slit. But in recent movies—especially Barbershop, its two sequels and spinoff TV series—it’s been re-styled as a quaint community gathering-place, a men’s-only hangout where cutters and cuttees can tell it like it is. In Nisreen Baker’s NFB documentary Things Arab Men Say, the animated, reflective discussion in the local tonsorial talk-shop ranges from identity, language, generation gaps and discrimination to entrepreneurial drive, social integration verses cultural cocooning and the scourge of ISIS.
There’s a sense that those here have been assembled for documentary-purposes, but that loose orchestration gels with the relaxed yet just so atmosphere of this clean-cut business—Eden Jamal Studio, downtown St. Albert. Those-about-to-be-shorn identify themselves as from Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, “stateless” (Palestinian), or Canadian (“Arab-Canadian?”). A doc like this relies on its characters, and this group’s immensely likeable, moving as smoothly between serious subjects and jocular asides as between English and Arabic. And so the guys here will briefly discuss whether or not “[f]avouritism is a major trait of pan-Arabism” in nearly the same breath as they’ll make jokes about laughing when the barber’s got a blade in his hand.
As a glimpse of fractal Canadian life, Baker’s film fascinates (it also counters cheap and easy Arab-stereotypes with its everyday complexity). The men talk about smoking shisha afterwards; hockey plays on the TV above Jamal the barber. One refugee’s story chills. Fisal, with Lebanese roots, had a Métis grandmother and a fur-trader grandfather who spoke Cree. The men wonder why they feel more of a together-ness in Canada than in their parents’ countries—because of sectarianism, tribalism? Meanwhile, Jamal, like many immigrants, is mainly defined here by the tools of his trade, by his profession—what he can do or contribute.
Writer Charles Foran recently suggested our land may be, somehow, “post-nationalist.” But what we see here isn’t a mix of allegiances but backgrounds, stretching beyond the multicultural into a patchwork future. Or perhaps what’s here, amid the free-and-easy banter, is, like that striped pole, a steady, moving swirl of colourful identities.
Sat., Jan. 21 (9 pm)
Directed by Nisreen Baker
Metro Cinema at the Garneau